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Silverman: Red Sox trade of Buchholz nothing more than a salary dump

December 21, 2016 GMT

There’s no reason to stand up and cheer the Red Sox for trading away Clay Buchholz.

The trade was an unabashed salary dump.

And while the money saved with yesterday’s trade does mean they slip under the competitive balance tax and could pay off with a wise purchase somewhere around the next bend in the road, the Sox right now are a worse team without Buchholz than they were with him on the pitching staff.

Josh Tobias, the Red Sox’ return on the Philadelphia Phillies’ $13.5 million debt assumption, is a 24-year-old second baseman who has yet to reach Double A.

One day he might blossom into a useful tool for the Red Sox. And I might start writing in simple declarative sentences one day.

Tobias doesn’t make the Sox better now.

And now the Red Sox’ rotation depth is just two, rather than three, tweaked obliques from having to turn to Roenis Elias, Henry Owens or Brian Johnson as a spot-starting savior. The old adage that you can never have enough starting pitching is one that not-new-anymore president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has not sworn allegiance to.

Trading away a proven and healthy (I know, healthy is a relative term when it comes to Buchholz) starter in the mistaken belief that rotation surpluses are real rather than illusory is a lesson former general manager Theo Epstein learned the hard way in 2006, when he traded away Bronson Arroyo to the Cincinnati Reds for batting practice slugger Wily Mo Pena.

These kinds of trades can come back to bite any team, especially one like the Red Sox that is relying so heavily on its run-prevention unit.

And while the Big Three of Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello have an unusually positive track record when it comes to health, the next three — Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz — have had an issue or two.

We know Dombrowski’s not trying to put the Red Sox in harm’s way, so why did he take this risk?

It felt like it would be a matter of when, not if, but most of us figured that if Dombrowski was going to make a decision on Buchholz, he would wait until spring training when a starter on one team or another, maybe even his own, hurt himself fielding grounders.

But Dombrowski, who’s been doing this longer than any GM in the game, didn’t want to wait.

“We had to be a little bit conservative,” Dombrowski said yesterday. “We could make the deal later on going into spring training, if we were at that point trying to move a contract, which for me has not been always successful. I think in this case, the timing fit for us. When we looked at everything, we were in a spot where we had seven established big league starters, we felt we had a little bit more depth there.”

Had the Red Sox not traded for Sale earlier this month, this deal doesn’t get made. But once Sale arrived, the urgency became an opportunity. The Sox were slightly above the $195 million CBT threshold, according to a club source who would know such details. Post-trade and $13.5 million lighter, the team is a good amount under.

“I can’t even say (getting under the threshold) was for sure a 100??percent driving force,” Dombrowski said. “It’s always part of the total equation. Again, not an overall driving force, but for us, it’s important to do that this year if we can do that, especially as we continue to project where we’re going to go in the future and some of the young players that we want to sign to long-term contracts.”

This was a money deal, not a baseball deal.

There’s nothing wrong with salary dumps if there’s a payoff at the end.

When that payoff’s invisible, don’t expect huzzahs for being fiscally responsible.